adoptive-grandparentQ: My husband and I came home from Kazakhstan a little over a month ago with our amazing daughter. My parents are coming to visit next month for the first time. We have kept to the guidelines of keeping anybody except our immediate family out of our home, not letting other folks hold or care for her, etc in order to promote healthy attachment and I have to say that it’s all going swimmingly. My parents will be the first people who have been in our home since we got back and we’re trying to set some healthy boundaries, such as no cuddling with our daughter or comforting her if she’s hurting… but we don’t want it to come across as these are our rules and we don’t want you touching your grandchild. We don’t want it to seem like we’re trying to come between my parents and our daughter but rather that we’re trying our darndest to promote a healthy, lifelong attachment.

A: It seems to me that you have what at first blush looks like competing goals: helping your child attach to you and helping your child and your parents attach, but in fact may not be at odds at all. Both parental and grandparental relationships are important. It seems from your question that your daughter is attaching well to you and your husband. By the time your parents arrive, she will have been home for over two months. If she seems to be adjusting and attaching well, I don’t think I would set too many boundaries for grandparent interactions with her, unless your parents are the overbearing type.

Follow your daughter’s lead in how much she wants to warm up to her grandparents. It is important that your parents start to view your new daughter as their grandchild and that usually requires a certain amount of cuddling and care. There is nothing like a child seeking you out to tug at the heartstrings, so if it were me, I’d let them cuddle and spoil to their hearts content. I would probably let them do some of the baby/child care as well if they are eager and if your daughter is willing. You, of course, should still be the primary one to care for her, but a diaper change or bath with you nearby seems fine. You will likely see if this is confusing to your daughter by her behavior and can always scale back and explain to your parents at the time.

If your parents are the “take over” type and you need to tone them down, I would explain the typical attachment cycle as it occurs in newborn (child cries, needs are met by parent, child is satisfied, new need arises, child cries, etc. and eventually child learns to trust parent). Tell them that with adopted kids, this cycle is disrupted, so it is important to reestablish the cycle as soon as possible. Reestablishing takes proactive and deliberate actions rather than the “natural” reactions that happen with a newborn. The child needs to form the bond with her parents first then it can be transferred to grandparents later. Stress how important their role is in her life, but that they need to wait just a bit until she is more firmly attached.

You might find these resources helpful:

  • Radio Show: Creating Attachment with Your Adopted Child in the 1st Year (discuss the role of grandparents) (1 hour. You can listen on your phone, tablet, iPod, or computer.)
  • Blog: Finding Balance with “Cocooning” Newly Adopted Kids (“In many ways I think the biggest distortion of adoption cocooning or nesting is the drawing of the family circle to exclude grandparents. The primary caregivers need to be mom and dad, but that doesn’t mean that grandmom and granddad can’t have a role as well.”)


Image credit: PJ Johnson